February 29, 2012

Yelling at Taxi Drivers in Neon Cars and Kneeling with Monks in Beautiful Temples

Our last day in Bangkok we woke up early to see the Buddhist temples that Thailand is famous for. The country is covered with temples of all sizes and colors. There are small temples in people’s houses, larger ones (bird house size) adorn entrances to yards and driveways, and then of course the large concourse size temples where people go to pray.

We started out the morning having a plan for which temples we wanted to see—there are SO many to choose from. We of course decided on the most photographed temples. Totally a tourist trap, we know, but hey that is like going to Hawaii and not at least visiting Waikiki. Those are things people ask you if you saw when you say you visited, so we went. 

We borrowed a Lonely Planet Bangkok book from a friend here in Manila and read about the temples and what to expect there—later this came in very handy. We got in one of the many bright neon taxis and headed on our way. The taxi driver was friendly and could not speak English but was trying to tell us all the places he could take us if we so desired. As we neared the temple area he called someone on his cell phone then passed it back to me and said, “Hello,” gesturing that I should talk to whomever it was. A bit weird. I took the phone and said, “Hello?” The voice on the other end of the line, in heavily accented English, told me that the Temples do not open until 9am and the driver could take us to some “nice places to shop.” Now…this is something I read about in the book; a lesson to anyone to do their homework before leaving on a trip. We looked up enough information to know that most of the temples opened to tourists at 8am and ALL of them were open by 8:30am so I knew he was lying. The next thing the Lonely Planet book had said was, “Be wary of anyone that tells you the temples are closed. That is never true and they are trying to scam you into going somewhere with them to buy goods they will get commission on.”

Flashes of driving to some back streets in a country that I did not speak the language or have any idea how to get back came to my head and before the person on the phone could finish his sentence, I yelled (probably louder than necessary) “NO! STOP THE CAR!” The driver was startled, I am sure because we were nicely listening to him tell us how helpful he could be before and now I was demanding to stop. He slowed a bit but kept driving forward and acted like he still wanted me to talk with the guy on the phone—something I had NO intention of doing. My one goal right then was: GET OUT OF THIS CAR. I repeated myself again, “STOP NOW!” It finally took me tapping on his shoulder while saying (still loudly) “STOP RIGHT HERE.” I paid our fare, jumped out, and I slammed the door, glad to be on our feet where we had control again. We found another taxi and, although leery of all taxis now, was glad to find a driver that took us to the temples without any problems.


The first temple we went to was Wat Pho. This temple is famous for several reasons: it is HUGE, it houses a giant reclining Buddha and of course it’s beautiful! Everywhere we looked there was more to see. Golden Buddha statues, intricate mosaics, ornate doors and millions of tiny colored glass tiles adorned the walls of the temple. Corridors connected a maze of verandahs and buildings. The place was massive! The colors were so exotic and intricate that it was hard to soak it all in. I was constantly in awe.

We had a blast taking photos of each new place. We had to keep passing the camera back and forth as we would see something we wanted to photograph. The Reclining Buddha was so large that it was hard to get it all in one photo. We then went and knelt in the large central temple as the Monks, donned in their orange robes and shaved heads, sang their prayers. The low strains of their voices were lulling and peaceful. It is disrespectful to ever be higher than the Monks so if they are sitting and you are next to them, you need to sit too, in the temple they were on a platform so at least we had a little room to kind of awkwardly hunch our backs as we entered the room and found a place to kneel.

After we left Wat Pho we decided to ride a tuktuk around the corner to our next destination—the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keaw.  En route we saw Wat Arun across the river, an old stone styled temple that contrasts the bright golden and painted tile temples of Wat Pho and Wat Phra Keaw. The tuktuk ride was fun and refreshing as the wind flowed through our sweaty clothes—I think we got ripped off on the price, but I was sick of fighting with drivers so I just paid it and kept my serenity intact for the next temple visit. 

  Unlike Wat Pho there were HUNDREDS of tourists at Wat Phra Kaew. It was twice the size of Wat Pho (I am not sure if that is true, but it seemed like it anyway) and every space in the temple grounds is covered with glittering gold or detailed tiles of color. Again it was hard to soak it all in. We dodged and weaved through large, slow-traveling tour groups—thankfully it was just us so we could move at our own pace. We took so many photos that our memory card was full so we had to delete a few pictures towards the end to get a few more photos we really wanted.  I think over the whole weekend in Bangkok we took over 1100 photos! YIKES! What is the Philippines and their love of photos doing to us? HAHA.

I could not help but wonder who hand painted and tiled all of these temples? Later we got our answer. High above the ground two painters used scaffolding and a tarp for a makeshift work shop were repainting one of the intricate statues.

The last thing we did as we were leaving is take some photos of the Grand Palace. The whole compound is beautiful. Spending a day at the temples was a good touristy way to end a wonderful trip to Thailand. 

February 28, 2012

A Market + Wok + A GREAT Teacher = Delicious Thai Food

Lady Hiva signed us up for a Thai cooking class. It is her goal to take a cooking class in every country we visit.  After perusing several cooking classes online, we decided on Thai Homecooking with Angsana. One of the reasons we decided Angsana was best is because it is a private lesson for just the two of us and it truly is HOME cooking. The class is taught in a kitchen at the back of her home in Bangkok.
The Kitchen Classroom
We made the arrangements early and scoured her website online to decide which dishes to make. We made Cashew Chicken, Green Thai Curry, and Phat Thai.

Angsana met us at a train station and we rode with her to the ‘wet market’. The wet market is similar to the wet markets in Manila. Stall after stall of people sell their wares of freshly butchered meats, fruits and vegetables. (The only difference is that the festering meat smell is overpowering in Manila’s and not so bad at the one we went with Angsana) These markets are good for locals because they can sell their products AND people with small homes that typically do not have fridges or stoves can come buy the food they need for the day. I followed and took photos as Angsana and Lady Hiva picked through vegetables and ingredients for our dishes. Angsana was patient and informative as we asked several questions.

I wandered off a few times to see what I could find. I can see why some people like the fact that their meat comes in a nice sealed Styrofoam package on the meat aisle of the market. Places like this you cannot deny where the meat comes from. You see all stages of the chicken, from egg, to alive,  to chopped up bits. Or I saw the head of a pig displayed proudly on ice and just above it all the “entrails” as Lady called them, were sorted out on the table.

Chopping the Chicken

I was a bit disturbed when I saw the crates of turtles and tubs of eels though. Neither of them were things I wanted to know people ate. Luckily Angsana told us that they DO NOT eat them, in Thai culture it is believed to give long life if you release a turtle or baby eel in the canal. Phew…close call. (As I walked away I wondered if the chicken and pig are disappointed they did not symbolize anything special)

Angsana taught us how to make all three dishes—step by step. We started with making paste for the green curry.  Limes, chilies, lemon grass, garlic, galangal (cousin to garlic)—the aroma was amazing.  We diced the ingredients and grounded the oils out with a mortar and pestle.  As we crushed each ingredients the kitchen was filled with delectable fragrances and as we added the next ingredient the fragrance shifted and became more tantalizing; When it finally resembled a paste, we sautéed the paste on the wok with coconut milk and other ingredients until we had our very own authentic Thai Green Curry. 

The other dishes were also done on the wok so the actually cooking time was quick.  If you blinked, you burned your vegetables so it was a bit intense.  Either way, it was well worth it because the food was delicious and we had a great time!  As soon as the Phat Thai was done, we sat down to eat and chowed down until we couldn’t breathe.    Both Lady Hiva and I loved Angsana’s gentle demeanor, she was so welcoming and warm. Lady Hiva was so happy to get some of her recipes at the end of the lesson—as they are recipes Angsana’s mother used to use as well. Later that night I came into the hotel room and found Lady Hiva studying the recipes trying to decide when the next time we would make them!

So if you are in Bangkok and want to learn how to cook that delicious Thai food in your home, Angsana is a wonderful choice!